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By Nathan Bailey, MA,LPC

If you or a family member are dealing with an alcohol addiction, drug addiction, gambling addiction or pornography addiction it can be challenging to understand what’s happening and how best to respond. While treatment and support should be specific to the needs of the individual, it can be helpful to look at the big picture. I’ve often found the analogy of responding to a water leak helpful to communicate certain principles of addiction recovery.

1. Our first response is often shock

When you see a stain or water mark on your ceiling or wall, many of us have the “does not compute” response. What’s happening? Why is this happening now? Why wasn’t there more of a warning? When we become aware of an addiction issue, we can have a similar response and “freeze.” How has this happened to us or the person we care about? “That happens to other people, not us.” This type of thinking can hold us captive.

2. We can’t just deal with what is on the surface

If we’re being honest, we want to “fix” the problem with the least amount of effort and disturbance to our normal routine (at least initially). We could just sand and repaint the spot and while it may look all nice and clean, it’s very likely it’s still an issue. We might assume it’s all good because it looks better (despite not taking the time to see what’s really the cause and/or is there an even bigger looming problem).

What we “see” in terms of addictive behaviors is only part of the equation. We have to look (and deal with) many underlying contributing factors. If we don’t take this approach, we might have temporary sobriety (often based on will power alone) and not long-term recovery that can stand the test of time.

3. You need the right approach (don’t call the painter first)

For those of you who have had significant water damage, you probably called experts, individuals who know what needs to be done and in what order. We can’t just call a painter. I’ve talked with individuals struggling with compulsive behaviors and their initial response for what they’re going to need isn’t comprehensive enough. They might want to respond to some of their needs and not others. They minimize. “Some change is ok” they might think, but there’s some areas of need they might be reluctant to even acknowledge.

4. It’s going to take time (to do it right)

In both cases of addiction and water damage, it’s unlikely that the issue “just started.” Maybe what we “see” just started (or maybe not) but it’s likely that this has been building over time. Maybe a long time. Maybe when your home/apartment was built something was overlooked. Sometimes we come from homes where we didn’t learn how to deal with negative feelings, we experienced trauma or we have struggled to find healthy relationships. If not dealt with, all of these can contribute to the start of an addiction. To address these factors, it’s going to take time and effort. You don’t have to do it alone, but if we rush the process, we might not effectively create change.

5. When the repair is done you have an appropriate amount of confidence in having addressed the problem

Yes, a thorough repair takes time. Yes, it’s often messy and because of this seems worse at the start (as we reveal more of the problem). Yes, it takes time…but this is the start of true change. Once we know what’s going on, we can fix it. When we dig into the root cause, we start building back (maybe even stronger than it was before the damage occurred). We have confidence that the response was the correct one.

When I meet with a new client, one of the things I tell them is that when our time comes to an end, they should be able to know the what, when, how and why of their recovery. What I mean is that their perspective will go beyond “not betting” or “not using”; they’ll know more about what led them to this, what role it played in their life and how they can avoid going down that path again.

While we shouldn’t be over-confident in our sustained change (“I’m cured now”) we also don’t want to live in fear that a relapse is going to pounce on us. If we know what to look for (because we know what we’ve changed) it will help to sustain the changes that we’ve made.

6. You should continue to monitor it

It’s a really good idea to walk around your home a few times a year and look for (and address) issues that might be building. This helps us stay ahead of a growing problem. Likewise, if you know of repair work you’ve done in the past, it’s a good idea to pay particular attention. Does it look the same? Are symptoms re emerging? Terence Gorski in his excellent book “Staying Sober” puts it this way “recovery is like walking up a down escalator.” What he means is that we should be putting effort into continuing to move forward, if we become too passive we might find ourselves heading back towards a relapse.

How to Get Help

If you are becoming aware of changes that you (or someone you love) need to make and you need support, Lime Tree Counseling is here to help. We offer substance abuse counseling, pornography addiction counseling and gambling addiction counseling. We provide in-person counseling in Ambler, Pennsylvania and online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in North Carolina and online counseling in Colorado. Reach out and schedule with us today!